- Osinbajo heads committee to investigate Ikoyi billions
- Senate committee hails presidential action
Iyobosa Uwugiaren, Omololu Ogunmade, Chineme Okafor and Damilola Oyedele in Abuja, John Shiklam in Kaduna and Victor Ogunje in Ado-Ekiti
President Muhammadu Buhari wednesday took a stagy step to manage the damaging image problems created for his anti-corruption crusade by suspending the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Babachir Lawal, and the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ambassador Ayo Oke.
The two senior officials of the government are to be investigated by a three-man committee headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo over allegations of corruption and breach of law and security procedures.
Other members of the committee are the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN) and the National Security Adviser, Maj-Gen Babagana Monguno.
A statement by the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina yesterday, said the president directed the Osinbajo committee to investigate allegations of violations of law and due process made against Lawal in the award of contracts under the Presidential Initiative on the North East (PINE), running into millions of naira.
Also to be investigated, according to the presidential aide, is the recent recovery of N13.3 billion, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), from a residential apartment at Osborne Towers, Ikoyi, Lagos, over which the NIA has made a claim.
Both officers would remain on suspension until the outcome of the investigations expected within 14 days. Consequently, the most senior permanent secretary in the SGF’s office, and the most senior officer in the NIA respectively, are to act during the period of investigation.
Adesina said the investigative committee has the mandate to dig up how and by whose authority the Osborne Towers funds were made available to the NIA, and to establish whether or not there has been a breach of the law or security procedure in obtaining its custody and use.
There have been claims that the cache of funds discovered at Osborne Towers was part of the money approved for the NIA by the former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration for arms procurement.
But the claims have several grey areas, which the Osinbajo committee would probably illuminate in the course of its investigation. The issues include whether the NIA briefed the President and the NSA about the money as well as why it was the wife of the intelligence agency’s boss and not its officials that kept it in the Ikoyi flat, that is now referred to as ‘safe house.’
The president had persistently been accused of shielding the SGF who had in December last year been accused by the Senate of awarding contracts for grass cutting in the crisis-ridden North-eastern part of Nigeria to his company, Rholavision. He was also accused of awarding contracts to Josmo Technologies to the tune of N272 million only for Josmo to allegedly pay back the sum into Rholavision’s Ecobank account some days later.
The Senate allegations followed the adoption of the report of its ad-hoc Committee on Mounting Humanitarian Crisis in North-east.
But when the SGF visited the vice-president in his office yesterday and was accosted by State House correspondents, he feigned ignorance of his suspension.
Asked for his reaction to his suspension, Lawal who was not ready to respond to journalists’ questions, said: “Who announced it?” When told it was the Presidency, he retorted: “Ask them.”
Below are the excerpts of the interview with the SGF.
Your suspension has just been announced. How will you react to the development?
Who announced it?
Then, ask them. Why are you asking me? Who is the Presidency?
Have you been informed of the suspension?
By who? About what? What about you? Have you been informed?
By the Presidency.
I have not seen it. I should have been given… I have not seen the press release so I cannot comment on it.
It is currently trending online. Are you doubting the authenticity of the statement?
I have not seen it.
Tell us the outcome of your meeting with the vice-president.
I am always here. I always meet the vice-president. I used to come here even before I was made SGF.
However, the DG, NIA, Oke, who arrived the Villa with the intention of seeing the president over his suspension, was blocked by security operatives.
Consequently, Oke attempted to see the vice-president but realising that journalists were waiting to ask him questions and take his visuals, he opted to turn back. He only returned some minutes later after journalists had been asked to leave the scene.
Giving more insights into the presidential directives yesterday, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Garba Shehu, said Lawal’s suspension indicated a major crackdown on corruption, explaining that the president was extending the fight beyond party lines.
Speaking last night on Arise News, a sister broadcast company of THISDAY in Abuja, the presidential spokesman said the president acted on the Senate’s interim report when its final investigative report was taking longer to come in.
He said: “You know that the Senate of the Federal Republic had undertaken an investigation concerning some contract awards for the reconstruction of the North-east destroyed by Boko Haram. These were supervised by his own office and the allegation was that they had found his hand through companies registered in his name in some of the contracts that were awarded.
“The Senate gave an interim report to the president upon which the president said look: “did you get a fair hearing? and the Secretary to the Government said he hadn’t received any, on account of which the president referred the matter back to the Senate and said they should give him fair hearing.
“I think that is what we have been waiting for all along until the president decided this morning that he would put him on suspension and has ordered his own investigation.”
When asked if he considered the N200 million allegedly budgeted as being too much for mowing grasses in Nigeria, Shehu said: “A lot of people have laughed at it and I guess there is some explanations that is needed and the panel will help the president to understand what went wrong and all that happened.”
He said the president would have acted on the issue or any other matter anyway but had to wait for the Senate to submit its full report.
According to him: “You know that although the Senate began all these in the case of Babachir David Lawal, but they said they were handing the president an interim report, so it was expected that the full report would at the end of the day come to the president’s table and the panel hasn’t finished its work, the Senate hasn’t brought its final report to the president, so all of these waiting, I am not trying to pass the buck to the Senate, but if a final report had been laid with the president and it had taken him long, then people would have said what has gone wrong.”
Shehu however maintained that the president would still find the Senate’s final report useful notwithstanding the outcome of the panel’s investigation that would be headed by Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo.
“I guess the president will still find the Senate report useful, but he wants the Vice President to lead the panel of investigation to let him know what went wrong there,” he added.
Senate Committee others React
The Senate ad-hoc committee investigating the Mounting Humanitarian Crises in the North-east has commended the president for finally summoning the courage to suspend the SGF.
The chairman of the committee, Senator Shehu Sani (Kaduna Central), in a statement reacting to the suspension yesterday commended Buhari for taking the committee’s report and its recommendations seriously.
“It’s commendable for the President to heed the call to fumigate the throne of lice and bugs with the same ability he goes after rodents afar,” he said.
The Ekiti State Governor, Mr Ayodele Fayose, however, described the suspension of Lawal and Oke as mere diversionary tactics targeted at deluding Nigerians, adding that the Osinbajo committee was an afterthought and an indication that Buhari had lost focus in his anti-corruption war.
The governor, who said the Buhari-led government was becoming an embarrassment to Nigerians with its macabre dance, asked: “Would the President have set up a probe panel if these scams were linked to anyone in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or those members of his
party that are not in his good books?
“Most importantly, what business does Presidential Committee have with investigation of crime? Are they telling Nigerians that they have lost confidence in all the intelligence and investigative agencies of the government, including the EFCC and DSS?”
Speaking through his Special Assistant on Public Communications, Mr Lere Olayinka, he said it was becoming obvious that President Buhari had lost control of his government.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Hassan Kukah, has asked the EFCC to adopt a more effective way of fighting corruption.
In an interview with journalists on Wednesday in Kaduna, Kukah said the manner in which huge sums of money were being hidden was very demoralising and humiliating.
The cleric who attended a sensitization seminar on money laundering/ counter financing of terrorism for religious leaders organised by Intergovernmental Action Group Against money laundering in West Africa (GIABA), said the EFCC must end the ongoing drama over the discovery of billions of naira in private residences and tell Nigerians who the owners of the monies are.
“I feel quiet demoralised, I also feel very humiliated as a Nigerian. But the confusion is not helped by the fact that we are dealing with monies that are about the sizeable budget of many states in Africa, it is just unthinkable that we can say that we have money running into billions of naira and we don’t know who has the money.
“Frankly, if I were a foreigner, I think my respect for Nigeria will dwindle seriously, so for me as a Nigerian, I feel quiet violated.
“I am sure whether this theatre is really the best way to go. I think that the agencies concerned should have a less dramatic, but most effective way of telling us the work they are doing other than this endless public washing of linens whose owners we don’t know. It is not helping the fight (against corruption) at all” he said.
According to him, Nigeria is going through trying moments while resources are not being accounted for.